The Killing Joke, by love-him or hate-him Alan Moore, has been loved and hated by readers since its publication in 1988. 28 years later, an animated film adaptation directed by Sam Liu premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con on July 22, and was then released for one night only in theaters across the US on July 25. Kevin Conroy performs the voice of Bruce Wayne / Batman, and Mark Hamill, the voice of the Joker in the 1992 Batman cartoon series, resumes that role here. Five members of Geeks OUT, each with a varying familiarity with the DC universe and the source material, share their opinions of this adaptation, among many other things...
Trish McNeely: Let's start with our initial reactions to the film.
Rachel Greenman: Sure! Garbage.
Trish: I was honestly rolling my eyes for the first thirty minutes (Batgirl… Ugh.), but then I got more into it when it started to actually reflect the graphic novel.
Adam McDonald: The parts based on the actual comic were fantastic and one of the best DC animated movies they've ever done. The opening act could have been interesting and shown what a powerful character Barbara Gordon really is but was totally wasted and torn down by the physical relationship between her and Bruce Wayne.
Rachel: I mean, I utterly hate the graphic novel so there was no way I was going to like it anyway. HAHA! Unless when Babs opened the door it was just Dinah on the other side like "Just kidding babe, this is disgusting."
Trish: It really felt more like it catered to a Young Adult audience, which was dissatisfying because it was inappropriate for the rest of the subject matter.
Adam: The opening act? Definitely. And of course her GBF was only there to be a stereotype interested only in her sex life or lack thereof.
Jon Espino: I felt that it was only selectively faithful to the graphic novel. It combined elements of the old story and forced a contemporary twist and POV shift from Batman to Batgirl. Even the animation style combined elements of hand drawn art with clashing computer graphics and what felt like cheap motion graphics. Just a Frankenstein's monster of countering parts that felt ineffective and offensive.
Rachel: About the sex: Bruce Timm loves the Bruce/Babs pairing. And that paring is canon in the DC Animated Universe (DCAU). It's his one thing. I love him otherwise, but I'm like: PLEASE STOP. NO. TURN IT OFF.
Jon: There was no build-up to that sex scene. None at all. So when it just happened, it felt forced and empty.
Trish: I agree! Batgirl is powerful, don't paste teen girl, older man crushes onto her that make her do stupid things.
Rachel: And the thing is, I don't think this story is about Barbara or has ever been about Barbara. The way the movie is being advertised as "one bad day can make a man snap."
Trish: I appreciate that bad day can make a person snap, but not the gendering it as thought it's more justifiable for men. What I appreciate about the idea is that Batman and Joker both had bad days. And they both deal with their trauma with ambivalence: Batman uses ambivalence to fight for justice and take responsibility to clean up Gotham. The Joker uses ambivalence to do whatever the hell he wants, and not take any responsibility for it.
Adam: Bruce Wayne went on and trained and became Batman in order to take down the evil that caused the death of his parents (and inadvertently continues to cause it, but that's another story), while the Joker became an evil megalomaniac and works to bend the universe to his own twisted will — he just wants to see the world burn.
Rachel: For me, this story has always been about Bruce and Jim and their reactions to poor, disabled Barbara. There's no power in sexualized violence.
Jon: The shift from Batman to Batgirl made no sense because Batgirl was never the focus of the story. Her part in the original story was just as a tool to create anger and pain in the men.
Adam: What would have been more interesting would have been to drop the sex scene and just focus on the fact that she reached the point Bruce Wayne did — staring into the abyss of becoming somewhat of a monster herself — and was stronger than him. She took a step back, she did not to go down the dark path that didn't truly represent her.
Rachel: Oracle (Barbara Gordon's post-Batgirl alias — Ed.) as a whole has always been great. Disabilities need to be represented. But having a disability that stems from such sexualized violence is just unfair to any person who lives in a wheelchair in real life. Disabling superheroes is problematic, because suddenly they're lesser. It's always a tragedy. It's never just a part of life. And that, to me, is where this story will always fail.
Jon: The only good thing about Batgirl and her narration was the optimism in it, and then showing her becoming Oracle at the end.
Rachel: It's also worth noting that Alan Moore went really, really far because this was supposed to be an off-world comic. It never intended to be canon. The famous words of the Editor in Chief at DC at the time were "Sure, cripple the bitch."
Adam: Anyway, they should have spent 20 minutes at the end showing what she was able to do as Oracle.
Adam: Because it's canon, it has had left an indelible mark not only in the DC comic universe, but also the movies. The origin of the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman is based on this, and The Dark Knight is essentially about The Joker's idea that it only takes one bad day to turn a hero into a villain (in that case Harvey Dent).
Jon: Even if it was never meant to be canon, why introduce it into the DC universe if it wasn't the story you wanted it to be? Moore made the story he wanted to, even if he hides behind the fact that it wasn't intended to be canon.
Rachel: Don't accuse Alan Moore of hiding — he'll come to your house with an axe.
Adam: And the wizards that live in his beard will cast a spell on you. Because it was the 80s and they were looking for ways to make comics darker, and the Comics Code Authority stopped caring about violence, so DC was trying to push the envelope. Not that that rationale excuses it, but that was generally their reasoning.
Jon: It was disgusting that even though they tried to make it all from Batgirl's perspective, it was still completely engulfed by the male gaze.
Rachel: And if they didn't want the male gaze, they should have let women re-imagine it. But also, who gives a balls what the Joker wants to do or not do. Who gives a shit if batman "forgives" him. It's not their bodies!
Trish: I was introduced to The Killing Joke by the book Holy Super Heroes, which explored how characters can experience tragedy, and still live with that darkness, but still have the ability to choose good or evil.
Adam: And the fact that Batman tries to work through that at the end and find peace with the Joker is proof of that. Joker is the one who makes the choice to refuse redemption and continue on his path
Trish: And also, he recognizes, that because of this, one of them will have to die. And of course this is a huge moral conflict for Batman.
Rachel: Especially since in the comics, it's heavily implied that Barbara was also sexually assaulted by the Joker as well. You know that famous quote from The L Word: "It's not my job to make you a better man."
Adam: Yes, and that has been debated for decades now, and there really isn't a good answer. Either idea is horrible.
Jon: Batman has always shown great emotional restraint, verging on coming off as cold or robotic. The whole escalation of the kiss into sex in the film feels unnatural for either character. 1: Batgirl would never do that. 2: Batman wouldn't have reciprocated.
Trish: I get that Batman has a history of being the ultimate bachelor and having sex with whomever… But not there.
Jon: Batgirl just felt like she was their to illicit an emotional response for the men. She's not there for their man-pain or to try to give the male characters emotional depth. So giving her a bigger part of the story only to have them end up treating her like this is even more insulting than what the graphic novel did to her.
Jon: I will say that I did enjoy when the film was faithful to the source material. Much of the dialogue was straight from the graphic novel. Hearing Hamill and Conroy bring those characters to life gave me life.
Adam: Definitely. It was the most faithfully adapted DC story I've seen brought into a different medium. While the art style was completely different, not only was the script nearly word-for-word from the book, but panels, emotions and reactions were ripped straight from the page and put on screen. And changing the monologue from the Joker to Jim during the tunnel scene into a musical was perfectly executed. Something I had never gotten from the comic, but it worked.
Jon: The musical number was an added bonus. I loved how many shots were identical to stills from the comic book, even if the varying animation styles used were distracting. I didn't quite care for the modern twist. Especially when it didn't add anything to the story.
Trish: Geeks OUT resident illustrator Alexa Cassaro just joined us! How do you, as an artist, feel about the film?
Alexa Cassaro: OK, so as someone who really knows nothing about Batman and just viewing it as an artist and cartoonist, it felt choppy. You could tell it took from panels and didn't exactly fill in that well. But more importantly, I learned a while ago in class from Francis Jetter (a badass female illustrator — look her up!) that sometimes it's better not to reveal too much. Like not completely showing "the monster" because readers have their own perceptions of fear that might not be the same at the artist, so readers not completely seeing or hearing it makes it even more frightening, because you as a reader are thinking of something that fears you. So that's why at the end of the extra scene, the panels of the comic, I could tell the comic had more of an affect on the emotions and fear.
Trish: I totally agree. And I had never thought about that. That's so cool.
Alexa: Because I can tell you I didn't like the song he sang or the dancing thing at all really. I thought it ruined my perception of fear.
Trish: I wasn't scared at all. I kept thinking I would grow uncomfortable. But I never did
Alexa: And as I have mentioned to Trish before, not much phases me, so I felt nothing. I wasn't uncomfortable. I felt literally indifference.
Alexa: I don't know if it's because I'm super into morbid anatomy and looking at a fetus in a jar makes me happy.
Trish: Either way, as you say, because the graphic novel is so good at creating that fear experience, I expected that from the movie. But felt nothing.
Alexa: But when I saw the panels of the "ride" it was much more interesting.
Jon: At one point, the Joker says, "It doesn't have to be good to be a classic." I think that line alone echoes the sentiment of the quality of the graphic novel, but also gives some explanation to the quality of the film. This was a graphic that was known more for its notoriety and contribution to the character of the Joker, and Barbara should have had no part in it if she was only going to be further exploited by the male characters.